It’s no secret that the global pandemic has caused enormous economic pain over the past 18 months, and the public health crisis remains an ongoing fiscal threat. Across Latin America, nearly 75% of medium-sized and large businesses are moving quickly to adopt new technologies for this new reality.
But not all startups are focused on creating technology for bigger enterprises. In 2020, Lluis Cañadell co-founded Treinta, a fintech company based in Bogota, Colombia, to help smaller sized and micro businesses across Latin America escape the time-consuming drudgery of using hand-written ledgers to help leapfrog their ventures into the digital age.
Cañadell estimates there are nearly 50 million small and micro businesses — meaning companies with fewer than 10 employees — in Latin America. Similar to the U.S., smaller-sized companies are a key driver of new private-sector jobs, which are badly needed after Latin America lost 26 million jobs in 2020.
“In reality, the vast majority of these companies have up to only three employees,” said Cañadell. “And about 90% of them have not adopted any kind of digital tool. They still rely on manual record-keeping.”
Enter Treinta, a free Android app currently available in 17 Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay, Perú, República Dominicana, Uruguay and Venezuela. The company plans to release an iOS version of the app in Q1 2022.
You may notice that Brazil did not make the list.
“Brazil is the largest economy in the region, and its dynamics and cultural aspects differ from many of the other Latin American economies,” said Cañadell. “I can’t say when we will enter that market, but we are looking into it quite extensively.”
The company designed Treinta “to help micro businesses become more efficient and to reach more clients,” said Cañadell. The app’s core features give owners of the smallest businesses the ability to register sales and expenses, track debits and credits, manage inventory, share digital receipts, download reports and view statistics. They can even set up a free, online storefront. More on that feature in a moment.
Change rarely comes easily, and it took two major influences for LatAm’s small and micro business owners to consider moving their operations to a digital format: the pandemic and the rapid adoption of the smart phone.
“There was massive resistance to change because these owners have run their businesses using paper records forever,” said Cañadell. “The pandemic changed everything. It disrupted our daily lives and habits, and it put a ton of pressure on businesses.”
Latin America ranks as one of the biggest smartphone adopters — 70% of the region’s population are unique mobile subscribers — and smartphone use in Latin America accounts for 69% of all mobile connections. Statista predicts that mobile internet use in Latin America will increase to more than 424 million users by 2025 — up from 343 million in 2019.
“Today, virtually everyone in Latin America uses a smartphone pretty much all the time. That wasn’t common, just two or three years ago,” said Cañadell.
Another factor that makes it difficult for small and micro businesses to go digital is the prohibitive cost and complexity of accounting software programs. Most are designed for use on a laptop or desktop computer which, Cañadell noted, most micro businesses in Latin America don’t own.
Treinta’s app seems to have arrived in the right place at the right time. Since the company launched in August 2020, it has garnered one million registered businesses and half a million active monthly users.
“It’s a very tough segment to penetrate, and the rate at which we are digitizing small and micro businesses in the region has never been seen before,” said Cañadell.
The Treinta app provides efficiency, security and analysis that a paper-based system simply can’t match. Treinta claims the app helps business owners save 30 minutes a day. While a paper notebook can be lost, the Treinta app automatically synchs customers’ business data in the cloud every time they connect to the internet.
Paper-based errors are notoriously difficult to correct, and details penned in a physical notebook offer no ability for further analysis beyond what the owner made on a given day, or the ability to share it with others digitally. The app lets owners edit their data and view profit information daily, weekly or monthly.
Moving beyond the app’s core business administration capabilities, let’s revisit the online store we mentioned earlier. Treinta customers can use the app to quickly set up an online storefront. It’s free; the company does not charge fees or take commissions.
If you recall, the app provides inventory management, and that’s the secret sauce. You enter your inventory into Treinta and activate your online shop. The app converts that data into a digital catalog, creates a URL and offers a few personalization options. From that point, you can send the link or a QR code to your customers and direct them to your online shop.
“It works like an e-commerce website,” said Cañadell. “Your customers can order from you online, and new customers can discover you by searching the Treinta Shop Marketplace.
This capability is a potential game-changer for keeping small and micro businesses viable during the pandemic and beyond. In the face of retail closures and social distancing, ecommerce — once considered a luxury in Latin America — became an essential lifeline for consumers and business owners alike. Goods sold online in 2020 increased by 60% across the region, according to this Euromonitor study, making Latin America the planet’s fastest-growing e-commerce market.
Now, with Treinta, even the smallest businesses can access a free, digital path to e-commerce.
There’s that word again. Free. Treinta’s a business, so how will it make money on a free app? The company plans to keep Treinta’s core business-management functions and the Treinta Shop e-commerce storefronts 100% free.
“The Treinta app is super-targeted, and it offers micro businesses a ton of value. In return, we get a large, organic customer base of highly engaged users,” said Cañadell. “We’ll make money by adding transactional products to the platform, starting with payments, which first went live in Colombia on August 13.”
Cash is still king in the Latin American economy, and Cañadell noted that this is the first time that the capability to accept non-cash payments will be an option for the majority of small and micro businesses. Treinta will make a commission on these payments.
“It’s a relatively small commission compared to other options in the market,” said Cañadell. “There are no upfront fees or subscription fees.”
Mexico, Latin America’s second-largest economy, is the next stop on the Treinta payment train. The company plans to launch payments there during Q4 2021. Although, he could not name specific countries, Cañadell said Treinta will begin rolling out its revenue-producing payments feature to the region’s larger economies during Q1 and Q2 of 2022.
Credit is another monetizable product that Treinta plans to add to its platform. Mexico and Colombia are Treinta’s top-two target countries for credit to be introduced first, and Cañadell said the company plans to partner with local credit providers to make that credit option available there in the next six months.
“Our main advantage is our enormous pool of data,” said Cañadell. “We can optimize our algorithms to provide improved credit scoring, pre-selected candidates, and offer better interest rates and still make money.”
That’s another potential game-changer for small and microbusinesses. In Mexico alone, approximately two-thirds of small businesses lack access to traditional bank loans. Oyster Financial, a leading neobank for Latin American SMBs, was the first to offer instant credit and revolving credit lines for SMBs in Mexico.
Treinta will explore adding other fee-based products to the platform as it continues to grow. “We have the capability to monetize anything with a transactional flow of money,” said Cañadell.
Payment bells and credit whistles aside, Treinta’s basic, core business-management functionalities and online storefronts mark a huge opportunity for millions of small and micro business owners still locked into a paper-based system.
It offers a free, easy-to-manage path to digitalization and gives small business owners the ability to operate more effectively and to reach more customers. Given its many benefits, Treinta might even provide its customers with a better shot at keeping their doors open during these turbulent economic times.